On the eve of the US election, how many of us laid in bed awaiting results with knots in our stomachs? Who among us can hide our concerns for the future as significant differences divide our country and also the church? We have articulate and passionate spokespersons (but not necessarily saints) on every side. Their rhetoric too often feeds presumption, misrepresentation, and algorithms instead of holiness. Who has not prayed for leaders who depolarize, unite, and heal around a deep identity and purpose? Just recently, I caught a glimpse of such a leader while watching the 2020 Templeton Prize award ceremony honoring the life of Dr. Francis Collins.
Collins led the Human Genome Project, which mapped human DNA across the entire human race, and now heads the National Institute of Health. Collins works seven days a week facing down what he calls his greatest challenge—COVID-19. Like the Human Genome Project, defeating COVID-19 will greatly reduce suffering and death worldwide. Yet this crucial feat will only be possible if our communities put aside their differences to accomplish a heroic task. Toward this purpose, Collins said, “Blessed are the depolarizers, for harmony can show us a better way.”
A devout Christian, Collins sees within our genetic code a structural unity that connects us as human family. Despite our embodied differences, there is a biological, creational bond—our DNA—uniting us as God’s children. This discovery amplifies God’s intention—inner unity beside difference. Compare any two people and they will share over 99 percent of the same genetic code—an invisible but powerful truth that Collins calls the “language of God.” Yet tragically, throughout history, our unity as God’s children has not been nurtured and our differences exploited. To remind us of our true identity, God sends harmonizers—leaders, prophets, and his Son, our Savior. Supremely in Christ, our Creator incarnate, we observe a harmonizing across tribe, gender, and class that unites us as family, as God’s beloved children.
As the Son of God, endowed with ultimate authority, Jesus revealed outsiders as members of God’s family. To women marginalized by ethnicity, disability, and poverty, Jesus spoke God’s language—a radical message of inclusion. And, every time Jesus included outsiders, the insiders were offended.
Remember the Syrophoenician woman. Her tribe was referred to as “dogs,” as undeserving of God’s gifts (Matt. 15:21–28). Even so, she begged Jesus to heal her daughter, and this gave him an opportunity to pull back the curtain on her identity as God’s daughter. Engaging her through a challenge, he asked whether the bread of heaven, believed to be the exclusive property of one tribe, should be given to outsiders. She leapt at the chance to declare her worth and said, “even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table” (Matt. 15:27, NIV). Her response stands in contrast to the insiders who could not imagine how Jesus would feed the multitude (John 6:7). Her reply makes clear that the bread of heaven—Christ’s body—is food for the entire world, especially “the dogs,” those who are hated and demeaned, but who, in Christ, become family.
Jesus also welcomed a prostituted woman reframing her real identity as family. Like the Syrophoenician woman, she was driven by desperation to Jesus (Luke 7:36–50, NIV). She crashed a party despite the disgrace her presence brought the host who was a religious leader, a Pharisee. Humbly, she approached Christ from behind. With unbound hair, like a bride on her wedding night, she washed Christ’s feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. With great intimacy, she kissed Christ’s feet and anointed them with oil. Her initiative offended the insiders, supremely the host. He, in response, tells his guests that if Jesus were a prophet, he would recognize the woman as a great sinner. Though she lived a sinful life, her love for Jesus identified her as an insider, as family. Comparing her to the Pharisee, Jesus said,
Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little. (Luke 7:44–47, NIV)
Like the woman who was prostituted, the hemorrhaging woman also approached Christ from behind (Luke 8:41–56). Left destitute by a twelve-year illness, she met Jesus on his way to heal the daughter of a synagogue leader. Though bleeding vaginally, she broke social customs to touch Jesus’s garment. She was immediately healed. Jesus asked who touched him, and she fell trembling at Jesus’s feet. Before the large crowd, Jesus called her “daughter,” and said, “your faith has healed you.” Though delayed by this encounter, Christ also healed the synagogue leader’s daughter privately—in their home. But the healing of the hemorrhaging woman was intentionally public given that she was likely a Gentile and thus an outsider.1 Though impoverished by disability and marginalized by race, she showed herself a daughter of God. Jesus healed two “daughters” that day, a twelve-year-old privileged by birth and another through faith. The number twelve in Scripture represents God’s people, the church made family through Christ’s blood.
Christ invited insiders first as family, an invitation they did not always accept. In contrast, outsiders recognized Christ’s invitation included them. Despite their birth or circumstances, they said yes to Jesus’s welcome. Through Christ’s body and blood, these women found their name plate at the feast of the Lamb, not because of privilege but because Jesus as host over all invited them. Christ pursued them intentionally, welcoming their faith, commissioning them as leaders, and including them as kin. Though shamed by insiders, their humility, agency, and love identified them as Israel’s true leaders.
Then and now, Christ’s gospel offends human pride and privilege, but here we find the narrow gate that leads to life. In Christ, outsiders are invited to the table as family. Christ harmonized the great divide between God and sinners, just as he works to bring unity and mutuality in his body—the church. Created in God’s image as children of God, our genetic structure reveals our bond as family, just as Calvary makes us one in Christ.
Like Christ, we too stand in the gap anointed to pronounce freedom to the captive, good news to the poor, and God’s favor to those who suffer (Luke 4:18–19). Our anointing situates us in challenging places where depolarizing is most needed—where Christ works through us to bring unity where there is division, invitation where there is marginalization, and God’s holiness that heals and guides. Blessed are the peacemakers, the harmonizers, those who see family in every human face. Theirs is indeed the kingdom of God.
1. See David Shaw, “Restoring a Hemorrhaged Identity: The Identity and Impact of the Bleeding Woman in Luke 8:40–56” Bulletin of Biblical Research 30, no. 1 (2020): https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5325/bullbiblrese.30.1.0064?seq=1.
Photo by Joshua Sukoff on Unsplash.